What’s it about?

How to Do Nothing (2019) is a study of what’s gone wrong in contemporary society and what we can do to fix it – and ourselves. Ironically, the most effective tactic against our 24/7 culture of productivity might just be doing nothing. When we stop, step back, and refocus our attention, Jenny Odell explains, we can begin to see the contours of a better, more meaningful existence.

About the author:

Jenny Odell is an artist and writer based in Oakland, California. She teaches at Stanford University and has been an artist-in-residence at Facebook, the Internet Archive, the San Francisco Planning Department, and the San Francisco garbage dump. Her art has been exhibited in galleries around the world.


Doing nothing is one of the best ways to learn and acquire internal peace:

When a person notices that he is doing nothing – in almost all cases – he is making a subconscious attempt to gather information and save it in his brain. One technique that helps in this is called “Deep Listening” – the act where the brain picks audible knowledge subconsciously. Deep listening is when you listen to sounds of daily life like nature, for example. The way we listen represents the level of our inner peace, despite the emotional state we are experiencing. The act of listening takes the individual into a different realm where he is more aware of his environment.

The ability to do nothing is missing in many people’s lives; sometimes, doing nothing is more effective than doing something. Over the decades, people have hired inaction to make their intentions clear. Silence is a strength that infuriates oppressive figures, and that’s why you should learn the power in it.

The incapability to speak up can be faced with not speaking at all. Inaction, when reached, sends a clear message to the powers that be. Jenny Odell has not only discovered a technique to better the power of inaction, but she has briefly explained why it is crucial for the development of society. So, if you are experiencing excessive oppression to speak up and you’re worried about your inactivity, this book is the life manual you need.


Assigning a moment for yourself doing nothing helps you understand and examine your current position in your life:

There are times in your life where the best thing to do is nothing. The outcome of nothingness is boredom – the time where you reflect on yourself the most.

Many people have a set mind towards their time. They believe that there is no way they can be productive and do nothing at the same time. There is nothing enjoyable about being productive since the first second we wake up. That is why you should assign a part of the day where you can do nothing – a reflect-and-repair mechanism to be more productive and less stressed. 

“Leave me but a little time to myself.”

-Greek General, Othello

If you need to leave society for a little time to regain your inner peace, you need to create or find another society to revolve your productivity. Leaving the world is often assumed to be the best way to gain inner peace, but that’s not true. The truth is, shutting the world out makes you less productive and efficient.

After suffering from stress-related complications of working too hard, Felix Levi took a vacation with his girlfriend in Cambodia. Together, they meditated until they found their inner peace. On the way back, Felix noticed that people are too immersed in their phones, so he set up a Digital Detox camp where people would come and free themselves from the phones for a while. The project was successful, and many people could detox from technology and do something creative with their time.

Felix didn’t help many people by isolating them from society; he replaced their digital society with human interaction – a new society.    


Doing nothing opposes the set order of the way life is supposed to go:

Most people get irritated by individuals doing nothing because they believe that everyone should be doing something:

When you do nothing, it seems to you as if you are being challenged. Your productivity boosts due to the pressure of doing nothing to do something – if it makes any sense. That is why inaction is considered to be a trigger to massive actions. Doing nothing expands your horizons and teaches you new perspectives and points of view. This doesn’t, in any way, is encouraging you to avoid your work and responsibilities; but, it’s a way you need to adapt to create an environment for reflection. 

The attention economy – the social sphere where people go to gain attention for themselves – has been considered by many people to be so dangerous. Many people think that trying to refuse these social platforms is the most effective way to be more productive, but this is not that accurate. Different from an outright refusal, learn to be moderate to understand it and control it. 


The perspective in which you look at things only depends on you and your capability to analyze your vision:

Your brain makes the images visible, so it’s only fair that you understand them well enough. Sometimes, something seems to you unproductive or dull and useless, but it might be just that you are looking at it the wrong way. 

A different reality is affected by sounds or the sense of unfamiliarity. You start to notice the sounds around you the moment you see something different, like after you finished a movie. That’s why curiosity is considered a tool that drives people to be more aware of things. 

The image you see relies on how long you look, and the sound you hear depends on how long you listen. The more you look at something, the more apparent things appear to you. Attention is a state where you assume to experience something new. When you are in this state, never expect the least.


Life may seem unfair if you don’t look at it from different angles:

Although you might think that people are in your way, if you try and look at it from a different view, you might be the one in their way.

A big part of becoming productive is learning how to live with people, establishing a relationship with those around you, and sharing ideas with people that are different from you. Most people trust their online friends more than their close friends. This is a bad habit. When you need something, chances are your near close friends are the ones that will help and support you.

Once people get together and share their ideas and creativity, society will develop, and the results will be much more magnificent.

The social world is a mirroring of the physical world. Once people acknowledge how to balance between the two while still interacting with new individuals, they can boost the development of the society.


To seek context, first, you should come to peace with the fact that you don’t know the whole story:

Context is the outcome of attention. The more you pay attention, the more meaning you will find.

When you move into a new neighborhood, your attention to the environment will let you know if you will be welcomed or not. Listening is an act of survival and is highly present within an animal. When you come near a new place, the animals determine if your presence is a threat or not. They observe and listen; then, they make up their minds.

The world is filled with infinite knowledge. It takes context to be capable of knowing what info is relevant or not. You need to sink yourself into the things that add importance to your life. That is why you should have time for yourself.

When you focus on valuable things, you’ll have less time to be addicted to the digital world. You need to care about the people around you, the places you’ve been; simply all the little details that make life a little more memorable.

“Idleness is fatal only to mediocre.”

-Albert Camus